Don Marquis, who died seventy years ago, is probably best known for ARCHY AND MEHITABEL, but he published some thirty-five books, and his daily newspaper columns were widely read. THE REVOLT OF THE OYSTER came out in 1922, a collection of what are best described as Shaggy Dog stories (some of them in fact told from the dog's POV).
This post, though, isn't really about Don Marquis, that's just a loose hook. I first ran across THE REVOLT OF THE OYSTER in my grandmother Ada's summer house on Salters Point, near New Bedford, on Buzzards Bay. Anybody who's ever rented a vacation cottage remembers that they're often furnished with old Agatha Christie paperbacks, say, or Louis L'Amours, or the Hardy Boys, and I remember going down every year to Ada's house, until I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, and every year I'd go straight to the bookshelf and take out the Don Marquis again. I never took it home with me. I always left it there for the next summer, a talisman, or a touchstone, if you will. I associated the book with that particular place, the smell of the ocean, the light on the water, the house itself, with its porches overlooking the seawall, my grandmother's sister, my Aunt Al, sitting in her room by the windows, playing her endless games of solitaire.
|Hancock Pt. library|
Memory is of course inexact, and it shifts under our
This isn't loss, or regret. It's more a kind of conjuring trick, an act of reimagination. We're never going to be nine years old again, but we can visit, and when I read THE REVOLT OF THE OYSTER, it becomes, for me, a trip to Ada's house by the shore and the world of summers gone, a game of solitaire, shuffling the cards.